Image Credit: Republic Records, 2020
Taylor Swift’s timing could not have been better when she took to social media to announce yesterday that not only had she been working on her newest album, folklore, in secret, but was also releasing it that night. The constant cycle of depressing news we have become so accustomed to was temporarily paused when she took fans worldwide by surprise and sent the internet into an excited frenzy. Especially surprising when considering she had only released an album, Lover, last summer, Swift took to Instagram to explain “most of the things I had planned this summer didn’t end up happening, but there is something I hadn’t planned that DID happen”. A lot of the promotion she had planned this year for Lover has been postponed due to the ongoing pandemic.
Nevertheless, if you are a believer that everything happens for a reason, this perhaps may be one clear example, with critics hailing folklore as some of Swift’s best work yet.
From the very first track, it becomes clear that this album is once again taking a different direction to anything we have ever heard from Taylor Swift before. This is not atypical of the singer, however. Over the course of eight studio albums, she has transitioned from country bumpkin to pop princess. With folklore, Swift has found a balance between both her country and pop music roots to deliver an album that is packed with the same vulnerability as her earlier works, such as her Fearless album, but is now also graced with an air of maturity. While listening to folklore, it is easy to forget that this is the same singer who is able to produce consecutive commercial pop hits, renowned for catchy tunes such as ‘Shake It Off’ and ‘ME!’ This album packs no gimmicks: instead, Swift is presenting her audience with a new type of listening experience. She appreciates that her most loyal followers would have been listening to her music for 14 years, yet understands that most experiences we have throughout life remain the same, it is just the level of maturity of which we possess in each stage of life which frames the way we go through these experiences.
In some ways, folklore could be seen as typical Swift. This is far from a criticism, however; despite this being her eighth studio album she is still successfully finding ways to rework and describe feelings of love, loss and heartbreak. On her YouTube channel, Swift herself described folklore as “sad, beautiful, tragic”, which is coincidentally the title of a track from her 2012, final country album, Red. folklore is a reminder of why the world fell in love with Taylor Swift in the first place: her song writing skills make you feel like she not only understands how you are feeling but can also put it into words better. Over the past few years she has been no stranger to drama, the aftermath of which is what makes up the main lyrical content of both her 2017 album reputation and 2019’s Lover. Echoes of this can still be seen in folklore, particularly in the track ‘mad woman’, which Swift described as the tale of a “misfit widow getting gleeful revenge on the town that cast her out”. If this fictitious storyline is representative of Swift’s infamous feud with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian-West and her hiatus that followed in 2016-2017, her revenge certainly is gleeful: for the most part, she has successfully shifted the narratives that followed her tirelessly throughout that era. Nevertheless, the point of folklore is not to revisit that time or dwell: the entire album is calm and composed, as if Swift is using it to tell the listener that she has moved on and is now in charge of how she is portrayed.
Whereas artists may usually start to question what is next for them after fame as astronomical as Taylor Swift’s, folklore is an exciting glimpse into where her sound could go in the future. Written and produced during lockdown and released on her own terms at a time that she chose, the album is a journey of a woman using her past experiences to come into her own. Compared to songs on past albums, such as ‘Bad Blood’ or ‘Look What You Made Me Do’, which feel like a crescendo of emotions that Swift wasn’t able to fully comprehend, folklore appears to have reached a sense of understanding. The album is both thought-provoking and easy listening, and has cemented that as well as being the soundtrack to my teenage years, Taylor Swift is coming with me into my twenties.